New Delhi: Electoral bonds worth more than Rs 570 crores have been sold in the latest phase of the electoral bond sale that lasted from January 2 to January 11, 2024, a Right to Information (RTI) query filed by transparency activist Commodore Lokesh Batra has revealed.
This is the second batch of electoral bonds sold since the Supreme Court began hearing four petitions challenging the scheme’s validity in November last year, and the 30th batch sold since the scheme was launched in 2018.
According to the State Bank of India’s (SBI’s) reply to Batra’s query, electoral bonds worth Rs 5,71,80,03,000 have been sold across SBI branches in Bangalore, Chennai, Gandhinagar, Kolkata, Hyderabad, New Delhi, Visakhapatnam, Mumbai and Jaipur.
Of the 897 bonds – sold in the denomination of Rs 1,000, Rs 10,000, Rs 1 lakh and Rs 1 crore – 415, or nearly half, have been sold in Kolkata.
The maximum number of bonds (540) have been sold in the denomination of Rs 1 crore with 161 in Kolkata, followed by Hyderabad (131) and Chennai (73). The money mobilised thorough bonds in the denomination of Rs 1 crore make up for 94.4% of the total money in circulation through electoral bonds in this phase.
Almost 92% of the bonds sold in this period have been encashed with only 25 bonds in the denomination of Rs 10 lakh and Rs 1 lakh left unused.
The next phase of bond sale is expected to happen in February or March.
Controversy surrounding electoral bonds
The electoral bond scheme came under the scanner soon after it was launched for being opaque and possibly routing unaccounted money to political parties.
The last round of electoral bond sales were announced two days after the apex court reserved its verdict on November 2, 2023.
Activists have also pointed out the substantial six-year gap between the first petition challenging the scheme, filed in 2017, and the case being heard by a constitution bench of the Supreme Court only in 2023.
During the hearings, the government pleaded to protect the right to privacy of big corporate donors to political parties with Attorney General R. Venkataramani going as far as to say that citizens have no fundamental right to know the sources of electoral bond funds.
While the identity of the electoral bond donors is exempt from RTIs, concerns have been raised that the Union government might be able to access data of a public bank like the SBI and ascertain the identity of the donors.
Where is the money going?
Electoral bonds worth Rs 2,800 crore were sold between March 2022 and March 2023. Of these, nearly 46% or Rs 1,294 went to the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), journalist Arvind Gunasekar pointed out in a post on X.
The party has been the net gainer of electoral bonds since the introduction of the scheme in 2018.
Of the total number of bonds worth Rs 12,008 crore sold between 2018-2023, the BJP has received nearly 55% or Rs 6,564 crore. Meanwhile, Congress has received just 9.5% of all bonds sold in the five-year period at Rs 1,135 crore.
Note: The story was edited to reflect the percentage of bonds in denomination of Rs 1 crore in terms of money (94%) from the number of bonds (60%).